Mexico step up their game to claim Gold Cup title over Jamaica

 

Perhaps Mexico just wanted to save the best until last. After lurching through this tournament and receiving every possible favor to reach the CONCACAF Gold Cup final, El Tri produced their finest performance on the biggest stage. The display proved enough to dispatch Jamaica and secure a record seventh Gold Cup title with a 3-1 victory at Lincoln Financial Field.

Andres Guardado once again served as the inspiration as he rounded off an impeccably worked free kick for the opener just after the half-hour. Jesus Corona hassled Michael Hector into conceding possession and then slotted home the second early in the second half to remove most of the doubt. Oribe Peralta pounced on Hector’s failed clearance just after the hour to remove all doubt. Darren Mattocks produced a wonderful consolation goal in the final 10 minutes, but it did not prevent El Tri from claiming victory and sealing a berth in the Confederations Cup playoff against the United States on Oct. 9.

It is the outcome many predicted at the start of this tournament, but Mexico took an unorthodox path to reach it. El Tri finished second in Group C and required fortunate penalty decisions against Costa Rica and Panama to reach the final. Guardado spurred them forward seemingly by himself at times as El Tri somehow claimed the expected berth in the final.

There were no doubts about the outcome on the night, though. Mexico found their stride at the last possible moment and purred into gear after finding the measure of the defiant Jamaicans. At last, they located their incisiveness and their panache to see off the Reggae Boyz in style and clinch their record 10th CONCACAF title.

It took a bit for the Mexicans to figure out exactly how to break down the impeccably organized Jamaicans. Winfried Schäfer’s side entered this last fixture as the tournament’s outstanding team with its blend of compactness and precision on the break. Those traits sparkled in the early stages with defiant work at the back in that well-drilled 4-4-2 shape and threatening forays behind the wingbacks in Mexico’s 5-3-2 setup.

As the first half unfolded, El Tri warmed to the task ahead. Jesus Corona — inserted in place of the suspended Carlos Vela with Giovani dos Santos left on the bench due to injury — presented a constant, mobile threat as he buzzed around Oribe Peralta. Corona forced Ryan Thompson to push around the post and then turned his header over the bar on the half-hour as Mexico grabbed the ascendancy.

Guardado confirmed El Tri’s supremacy by opening the scoring from an expertly taken set piece. Jonathan dos Santos started the move by spraying quickly out to the right after Rodolph Austin committed a foul in the middle third. Paul Aguilar collected in space and swung a deep cross toward the back post. Guardado met it on the full volley with the necessary technique and thrashed into the upper corner to send his side in front.

Jamaica responded well to conceding and sent numbers forward in search of the equalizer. Adrian Mariappa fizzed a cross through the penalty area with Giles Barnes and Simon Dawkins unable to turn home at the right time. The late flurry underscored Jamaica’s intent to pull back into the game.

Those hopes were dashed two minutes into the second half after an uncharacteristically slack play in possession. Corona caught Hector in possession in the attacking half and then sprinted forward into the space. He darted into the space provided and doled out a harsh punishment by driving his low effort inside the post to double the Mexican advantage.

At that point, the game felt just about up for the Jamaicans. Their model doesn’t allow much latitude to chase the game at two goals down, though they tried to do so nevertheless.

Another error removed any lingering shreds of doubt on the hour with Hector again punished. The cross from the right fell for Hector at the near post, but he scuffed in his attempt to clear it. Peralta found himself in the perfect spot and swept home from six yards to increase the advantage.

Peralta’s goal released the tension and prompted the sort of flourishes long missing from Mexico’s approach during this tournament. The cries and the olés rang out at Lincoln Financial Field as Mexico reveled in its supremacy and pinged the ball around with impunity as they saw out the game.

Second-half substitute Mattocks — left out for Dawkins to ensure more solidity in the Jamaican shape — pulled a goal back with a fine solo goal in the final 10 minutes. He cut inside his marker with a typically direct move and then fired home past Guillermo Ochoa to stamp his imprint on the game.

It proved far too little, far too late. Jamaica left the tournament with heads held high after exceeding any reasonable expectations. Mexico, however, departed with the trophy after muddling through and then mustering a worthy performance at the last possible instant to climb atop the podium once more.